Transnationalism: The Reflectiveness of Culture Within Art

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Brown, weathered paper wielded at the tips of a brown, weathered hand, is loosely thrusted into my white, smooth hand: an offering. An offering to view elongated figures dancing in layers of colored bronze and bistre, hiding burnished blues chosen to compliment the monotony of the recycled paper bag canvas. An offering to chat; enlarged, enthusiastic eyes stare into mine as the prehistoric cave-painting-esque figures become women through the continuous sharing of words. An offering to revel in this unseen-before form of economical street art, abrasive yet sweet as excitement and passion is exchanged from artist to viewer. An offering to learn the history of women’s rights in Morocco and this seasoned man’s take on how to represent that. An offering, unexpected and subtle, to view and partake in the beginnings of a discussion on intersectional feminism. An offering made from artist to tourist amidst history felt and visibly painted in the aging medina in Asilah, Morocco.
Kayla1
In a different time and a different place, prints of women, once water-colored and pure, hang from a line above boxes of more. A variation of women, diverse from each other but copied in numbers, spread out and available, loose and easy and comfortable to grab. Each form is true and anatomically reflective, but content clashes and questions arise.  Why is the woman distraught and distressed as she stares into the elephant’s eyes? Together what do the clock and puppet girl symbolize? The woman who is naked, is she more than a pretty, fleshy silhouette? “Excuse me, how much is the painting of the woman with the elephant?” “Oh sorry, I just ran out of that print,” an unplaceable accent floats above the noise from somewhere along the stone steps on the outskirts of Little Morocco in Granada, Spain.Kayla2

The power of street art and its capacity to proclaim important statements on pressing social, economical, political and environmental issues of the time is becoming more acknowledged as the works of Banksy and other popular street artists become viral. As Banksy and others contrive bigger and newer ways of challenging the public through art, local street artists have perfected the art of selling their pieces for profit.  Spain and Morocco, two nations who while having intertwined histories, differ culturally, linguistically, and touristically which was specifically illustrated to me after my encounters with two different street artists in their respective countries.  As the Moroccan street artist appeared by my side, eager to exhibit, discuss, and sell, I realized the medina and its inhabitants not only served their purpose as his inspiration but acted as his museum as well. As I walked, hesitant to flee, he followed, flipping through his pieces, utilizing the changing backdrop of white-washed walls and flashes of bold color to capture the combined history and struggle of place and piece. This persistent street artist, briefing each of his pieces with synopses of Moroccan feminism and revolutions and protests leading to the Mudawanna legal code, blended into the ambiance he relied on. It was shocking to be informed by a Muslim street merchant man about intersectional and global feminism, educating me more than any female feminist I had talked to before.  This further allowed me to shed the remnants of the Western lens and misconstructed transnational imagination. The shock of witnessing true cultural characteristics and life, discovered and affirmed through my exchange with the Moroccan street artist, also exemplified to me distinct differences between the Spanish and the Moroccans. The Moroccan street artist wanted to talk, wanted to share, wanted to teach. He was friendly and always perched directly in my personal space, a glimpse into the intimacy and inclusion ingrained in Moroccan culture.  The street artist in Spain had created her pieces and carelessly placed them out, relying on beauty and aesthetic appeal to lure in buyers. While the Moroccan street artist had engaged and acquainted, the Spanish street artist let the language and cultural barrier prevent her from sharing, explaining, and connecting with the viewer. This thus reflects not only the varying responses to tourism each country has, but also the differences between culture.  In Spain, the formidable Alhambra and grand cathedrals draw in interested crowds from around the world, but much like the stone altered, shared, and stolen amongst religions that make up the magnificent architecture, there is a disconnect between viewer and work as parts of history are dismissed and forgotten with time.  Therefore crowds come to simply view, uninterested in challenge, similarly to how the Spanish street artist allows her pieces to be viewed without an explanation or connection to viewers.  This exemplifies the secluded and solitary aspects of Western culture, making the trans-national journey from the United States to Spain easier and more comfortable. The trans-national journey from Spain to Morocco however was as bumpy as the bus ride through unpaved Moroccan terrain; as awkward as the cramped cab ride spent squished between the open window and a sweating human body; as comfortless as the loping back and forth of the thick, packed saddle precariously balanced between two camel humps; as bothered by the street artist willing to interrupt a tour to make a few dirhams. And yet the forwardness of the Moroccan culture has offered safety, companionship, and an unforgettable experience exposing kindness to any and all visitors. While the art in both places has been as beautiful as their respective locations, the opportunity for challenge, growth, wisdom, and change in Morocco as compared to Spain is starkly symbolized through the closely stacked, irregular medinas compared to the impenetrably wide, adorned villas; reflected in the frequently interested Moroccan eyes and unconcerned aloofness of the passing Spanish pedestrians; and the heavily illustrated connection between the collective Moroccan memory and its presence in street art and the choice of Spanish street art to solely appeal to aesthetic and beauty.

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